Government Shutdown Stalls Backlog Of Immigration Cases

We’re going to continue our conversation about immigration with a look at how the partial government shutdown is affecting the backlog of immigration court cases. Judges are warning that thousands of cases daily will have to be rescheduled because of the government shutdown. Most immigration judges and attorneys are being told not to show up to work. That’s adding to a growing backlog in immigration courts.

So I called up Dana Leigh Marks. She’s an immigration judge in San Francisco, and she spoke to us in her capacity as the former president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. She’s also one of the judges who has been furloughed during the shutdown. She explained how the partial shutdown is unfolding for attorneys and judges working in immigration courts.

DANA LEIGH MARKS: Individuals who are working on detained cases, including judges and support staff, are working now without pay. It’s those of us who are in the non-detained court settings who have been sent home.

GONYEA: Can you just briefly describe the difference – what you’re talking about there?

MARKS: Sure. Our courts are the trial-level courts that deal with individuals who are accused of being in the United States without proper status. Some of those individuals are actually held in detention, in custody by the Department of Homeland Security while other individuals are released, either without a bond or being required to post some kind of bond to guarantee that they will appear. So the cases that are going forward at this point are people who are held in Department of Homeland Security custody across the nation.

GONYEA: What happens to people whose cases were making their way through the courts, and suddenly they’re not?

MARKS: Unfortunately, those cases get postponed pretty much indefinitely. We’ve never been in a situation that is so dire with regard to the backlog of immigration cases nationwide. There are an estimated 1.1 million cases pending before the immigration courts across the United States. And when we have to shut down, those cases are delayed, sometimes for years, before we have space on our dockets to be able to reschedule them.

By Don Gonyea for NPR
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